Bishops tight-lipped on Lambeth marriage text

Retired Bishop at Lambeth Tim Thornton (left) and Archbishop Howard Gregory, primate of the West Indies (right). Photos: Thornton by Ethan Doyle White - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0; Gregory courtesy of the Diocese of Jamaica & the Cayman Islands).
Published September 5, 2022

Answers elude journalists asking about controversial early version

Two bishops involved in preparing a controversial Lambeth Conference statement have declined to comment directly on how a line calling for the reaffirmation of a 1998 resolution endorsing marriage as the union between a man and a woman appeared in a version released before the conference.

Days before the July 27-Aug. 7 conference, bishops from across Canada and internationally released statements in protest of a draft of the call which did not match the version the call’s drafting group originally submitted. This new version contained a clause calling on the church to re-affirm Resolution I.10 from 1998’s Lambeth Conference, which states, among other things, that the conference of bishops “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” and “cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

Kevin Robertson, regional bishop of York-Scarborough in the diocese of Toronto and a member of the committee tasked with drafting the call, says the inclusion of this section was “disturbing” to him. While the drafting group had included a reference to the document as the historical position adopted by the Lambeth Conference, it had recommended no action for the conference to take on it, he says.

In the days between the release of the changed draft and the beginning of the conference, Robertson and the drafting group reconvened online to submit a new version, which became the call actually discussed at the Lambeth Conference. The new draft mentions I.10, acknowledging that many provinces within the Anglican Communion continue to disagree with same-sex marriage, but also referring to “a plurality of views” on sexuality. The drafting committee removed the recommendation to reaffirm Resolution I.10.

Both Robertson and Archbishop Howard Gregory, primate of the West Indies and chair of the committee, say they believe that final version successfully represented the drafting group’s intentions. However, Gregory said he could not account for the inclusion of the recommendation to re-affirm the 1998 resolution.

Each call, Gregory said, was subject to oversight from the Lambeth Conference’s planning committee. Asked whether it was a member of the committee or someone else who added the line, he said simply, “I cannot answer that question.”

At Lambeth’s opening press conference, Tim Thornton, a retired bishop at Lambeth and head of the planning committee’s sub-group on the calls, told reporters that the earlier version of the call had been part of a process intended to solicit reactions from bishops ahead of the conference. Based on that, he said, drafting groups would be able to adjust the calls to reflect the feedback they received.

Asked who had actually added the reaffirmation of the 1998 resolution, he replied, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say again: I’m sorry about the lack of clarity over the process; the process was very clear for all the calls [sic]. The drafting group worked hard and the calls subgroup took the final decision on the drafts that were presented at the conference,” leaving it unclear whether his subgroup made the final decision also on drafts released before the conference began.

As this story was being posted in early September, the Journal was unable to reach Thornton or spokespeople for either the conference or Lambeth Palace for clarification.

Both Robertson and Gregory say it’s time for Anglicans on either side of the same-sex marriage debate to look for ways to coexist and move forward together. Gregory, who oversees jurisdictions of the church where same-sex marriages are not recognized, says he invited Robertson, who is married to a man, to help draft the call. Coming out of this year’s conference, both described a spirit of willingness to discuss and acknowledge the differing points of view on sexuality that came up throughout.

“I believe the majority of people [in the communion] do not feel that [either side] should be eliminated. Coexistence is desirable, not just in terms of toleration but as expressed in the spirit of our call that we continue a process of education and sensitivization,” said Gregory. “I would like to think we present the mainstream view of the communion despite the extremes on both sides.”

In his introduction to the discussion of the call on human dignity, Archbishop Justin Welby encouraged members from either side of the debate on same-sex marriage to consider the sincerity of the other’s perspective. He said that both the majority of the communion who do not affirm same-sex marriage and the minority who do have arrived at their positions through careful thought and both have their church’s standing relative to their broader communities at stake.

“My sincere hope [is] that this is not the communion-breaking issue and that we are able to move forward together,” Robertson told the Journal. “I don’t mean this is done and dusted and we don’need to do any more work around issues of justice around sexuality and gender identity and marriage. But I think we can stay together as a communion.”

LGBTQ bishops at Lambeth gather for a photo. In 1998, Robertson says, there were no openly gay bishops at the conference. Photo: contributed

He also said he was impressed by the care Welby took to show respect for both conservative and progressive views in his remarks. “I think what he was doing, and I actually think he did very well, was trying to kind of thread the needle.”

Likewise, Gregory credits Welby with what he says was a more amicable and agreeable atmosphere surrounding this year’s discussion compared with his experiences at the 1998 and 2008 conferences, when discussions on same-sex marriage were fraught with tension.One aspect of the conference Robertson said he continues to disagree with, however, was the policy of not inviting the spouses of bishops in same-sex marriages, including Robertson’s own husband, Mohan

Bishop Kevin Robertson (left) and husband Mohan Sharma (right), who attended church services, discussion sessions and social events at Lambeth though uninvited. Photo: contributed


Sharma attended the conference anyway, along with the spouses of several other bishops in same-sex marriages. He stayed at accommodations provided by Lambeth University, spoke with attendees on the opposite side of the marriage debate and attended the call on human dignity discussion and other conference events as an observer. Robertson says he and Sharma found the conference organizers and the Archbishop of Canterbury surprisingly welcoming despite the lack of an official invitation.Welby and his wife even invited Sharma to join Robertson at a reception at Lambeth Palace and found an extra gift to send home with his husband when Sharma had to decline, having already returned to Canada.

“The exclusion was more inclusive than we might have thought,” says Robertson.

Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda did not attend Lambeth this year. In a May open letter, they accused the Western church of being in a state of “apostasy” and “rebellion” against biblical authority. The acceptance of homosexuality by Western churches, they said, was a sign that they had been pervaded by secular culture.

Together, their churches represent a significant portion of Anglicans worldwide; 30 million of a total 70 million in the entire Anglican Communion, according to the primates’ letter.



  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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